Gang participation in Riverside County on decline, district attorney says

Colin Atagi • The Desert Sun • March 10, 2009

Just three years ago, few law enforcement programs across Riverside County were dedicated to reducing the number of gangs. “For the most part, other than (the Coachella Valley Gang Task Force), there wasn’t a concerted effort to get gangs. It was piecemeal at best,” Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco said.

Things changed in 2006, when the Riverside County Gang Task Force was formed.

Nearly 900 gang members and suspected criminals around the county were arrested in 2006, and the number has increased every year since then.

“We made a lot of arrests and a lot of prosecutions and sent a lot of guys away,” Pacheco said. “We make arrests every day.”

His office announced on Monday that last year, the task force made 237 arrests in Region 1, which includes the Coachella Valley and eastern Riverside County.

That’s up from 193 arrests in 2007 and 114 arrests in 2006.

Around the county, there were 2,129 arrests in 2008. Of that number, 1,235 people were gang members.

In 2006, there were 857 arrests, followed by 1,571 arrests in 2007.

The number of gang members across the county has gone down from nearly 13,000 in 2005 to about 10,600 today, Pacheco said.

There are 391 known gangs in Riverside County. Although it’s too early to say if the number has capped, it appears it is reducing, he said.

On the flip side, the number of officials involved in the program has increased.

Today, there are at least 80 officers from 25 agencies and 30 prosecutors in the task force.

The Coachella Valley has about 15 officers and seven prosecutors.

“It’s a very, very strong collaborative effort to get this cancer out of our community and behind bars,” Indio Police Chief Brad Ramos said.

Former Indio Police Chief George Rawson, who is now chief in Carmel, recalled how bad the gang issue was in the Coachella Valley before the local task force was formed in 2001.

“Every city from Palm Springs to Desert Hot Springs to Cathedral City — all of them — had issues back in those days where they were beginning to recognize gangs were becoming a part of their community or invading their community,” he said.

Local law enforcement officials and former District Attorney Grover Trask organized the local task force, which showed results.

“Every jurisdiction was being touched by (the task force’s efforts),” Rawson said.

The Riverside County task force is making new advancements to make sure more gang members are arrested and gang activity is reduced, Pacheco said.

He would not say, however, what changes will be made.

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